“….but never water down the truth of God. Let it have its way and never apologize for it. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples,” not “make converts to your opinions”.
Quote from Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost For His Highest”, May 6th entry, “Liberty on the Abyss of the Gospel”. (Galatians 5:1)
That is my desire too. I am not looking for people to become converts to my strong opinion that Yoga does not have a place in the life of a Christian. Opinion is free but judgment has a cost.
I assure you that I am taking that very seriously and have prayed that I get the tone right in this blog post. I am feeling lead to share information to empower and encourage those that don’t know.
Let’s also keep in mind that it is NOT the intent of the person as to why and how they do Yoga, it is about Yoga itself, it’s roots and what it is designed to do.
As I’ve been doing some research on the matter, I have found some really interesting facts that have not only peaked my interest but have also sparked great conversations among fellow believers on both side of the subject. My desire is that people would become deep divers into God’s word, companions of Jesus and live by the leading of the Holy Spirit in their journeys to find peace.
Perhaps you have already decided that you are done with reading this and don’t want to hear any more. To you, I say, thank you for even considering opening my blog.
Maybe you are curious and wondering how I will take on the challenge of disagreeing with the masses and go against the popular culture of this world. I love a good challenge and I am not a foreigner to taking risks. However, this risk might be a costly one because I have many dearly loved friends who participate in Yoga on a regular basis. So needless to say, I’m a little concerned about the after effects of what I will be saying here. I want to live in The Light and I want you to live there with me.
I believe that God has laid this on my heart to inform and expose, and I as a follower of Christ and a woman of strong convictions, need to obey.
I trust you will grant me grace, patience and forgiveness where needed, as I unpack what God has impressed on me. As I have been working on this for a few months now, I have often felt like David in the Bible when he comes against Goliath. Going against the masses is the Goliath for me. Although I can picture and almost feel David’s clunky armour on my body, I sense the strong calling Esther had when she was asked to address the king. Both of those Bible story characters had giants to face. With God’s help and a lot of prayer, I am ready to face mine – I think.
At the end of the day, we as believers, need to allow the Holy Spirit to convict hearts according to His ways (not mine), allowing God to lead and direct. Our role is to love the people He has brought into our lives whether they agree with us or not. Because I love them, I am choosing to take this on.
My journey to become more informed about Yoga officially began about a year ago when many fellow believers, most of whom are my friends, were engaging in this particular spiritual exercise. What was even more interesting is that they didn’t see anything wrong with it.
What tipped the scales for me was one particular conversation I had with a seminary student who is studying to become a pastor and concurrently wants to become a Yoga instructor. Based on my understanding (and personal cultural knowledge and experience on the subject), I was baffled.
Growing up I was taught it was wrong for Christians to practice it but I didn’t really know why. Just that it had Hindu roots and to take part in another religion at the same time as Christianity was wrong.
Then as a grown adult, I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so uncomfortable around conversations about Yoga. So I began to read articles, have conversations (with people on both sides), ask questions and pray!!! Time and time again I was discovering my childhood beliefs supported. I found some Christians who are practicing Yoga want to hide it from others (aka, “stay in the dark”), I heard some Christians openly share their participation in it and after some dialogue realizing that they really weren’t informed about the roots of the spiritual exercise itself. Along the way, I also met some believers that were vehemently opposed to Yoga but refuse to speak about it because they are afraid of what others might think of them (also “staying in the dark”). Luke 11 encourages us to “live in The Light” (of Christ). I would like to do that together. Will you join me?
My work in India and Nepal has pushed me deeper into trying to “figure it out”.
As I work with Nepali / Indian Christians (me being one of them) many of them have converted from the Hindu faith. These converts take very seriously what 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “the old has gone and the new has come”. Therefore they want nothing to do with anything that connects them to the Hindu faith because of the “old” and the fact that by doing so, it would make other potential converts stumble and thus blur the lines of the Christian faith. Although there is room for Grace and God’s Redemptive power to change things, the truth is that Yoga has Hindu roots. So for that reason alone, I stand with them on this. Not only because I am a Christian who happens to be East Indian, but because scripture teaches that we should not do something that would make other believers stumble. (1Corinthians 8:9; 1Corinthians 10:32; 1John 2:10; Luke 17:1)
By now you might be saying, “well, I don’t have any Hindus in my life, so it’s ok to do Yoga because I am not making anyone stumble”. That simply exposes a lack of knowledge about the roots of this spiritual exercise (as it has been termed quite frequently in the readings).
For starters, you are doing an exercise with or without realizing its real intent. A common definition of Yoga is “an exercise designed to achieve union with the Hindu concept of God” (in some cases it read “union with a divine”). That suggests that believers who practice Yoga are choosing to be present before two gods at the same time (given the clear Hindu roots of Yoga). The Bible clearly states in the Ten Commandments that, “you should have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). That piece of information alone makes me shudder because it is in direct opposition to God’s Word.
For generations, Yoga has been practiced throughout the world, with its roots deep in the Hindu faith (not to be confused with the language of Hindi). Many are convinced that there are no real connections with the exercise, but research continues to show that is not the case. The following description was taken from The Rough Guide to Nepal (7th edition published in 2012), written by James McConnachie, Shafik Meghji, David Reed, and has no affliation with any religious group.
“Yoga is more than just exercises – its a system of spiritual, mental and physical self-discipline designed to unify the individual’s consciousness with the universe. Techniques include KARMA yoga (altruism), BHAKTI yoga (devotion, recognizable by the chanting), JNANA yoga (deep meditation, best practiced after mastering one of the other kinds). What most westerners would recognize as Yoga springs from RAJA Yoga, probably formulated around 600 BC. It has 8 astanga, or limbs (not to be confused by the yoga style with the same name), each a step to realization.
Three of these have a physical emphasis and it is from this root that yoga’s reputation for pretzel poses and headstands comes. Whatever the name of the particular variation, be it BIKRAM, KUNDALINI, or ASHTANGA, all types of Yoga that use ASANAS (or positions) as an aid to developing the self are generally referred to as HATHA yoga.
Most practices also include PRANAYAM – breathing exercises. You will find several kinds in Nepal, including the SIVANAND school (a slow style with asanas and lots of spiritual guidance), LYENGAR (a vary exacting school that uses some props and focuses on alignment) in practices that follow particular gurus from India, usually including elements of Raja, Bhakti and Karma yoga.”
Let me remind you again that it is not the intent of the person doing the Yoga, it is very fact that the person is participating in a spiritual exercise, no matter what they choose to believe about it.
Along the way, I have learned about the term “Christian Yoga”. Apparently, here in the West, many Christians have changed the term of Yoga to suit their own Christian faith practices. Then I ask the question, “if Yoga is okay for the believer, then why change any of it at all?”.
On a recent speaking trip to Nepal, I took the opportunity to ask the local church leaders about Christian yoga. They laughed and said that there was no such thing.
Christian Yoga is an oxy-moron and pluralism, they told me. Taking two religious practices and meshing them into one, is not only against scripture, but is also a great disrespect to the Hindu believers and the Indians around the world.
They also included, “in order to avoid any Hindu ties, putting the title Christian in front of it excuses (our) any accountability to the One True God”.
Biblical Discernment Ministries goes on to say the following.
“Westerners mistakenly believe that one can practice hatha-yoga apart from the philosophical and religious beliefs that undergrid it. This is an absolutely false belief….You cannot separate the exercises from the philosophy…’The movements themselves become a form of meditation.’ The continued practice of the exercises will, whether you…intend it or not, eventually influence you toward an Eastern / mystical perspective. That is what it is meant to do!…there is, by definition, no such thing as ‘neutral’ Yoga” (Like Lambs to the Slaughter, pp.93-95)
A self-proclaimed atheist writer states, “we will take what we want and make it our own”. Which screams “cultural appropriation” (S.E Smith). She goes on to say, “yoga furnishes a texbook example of lifting something from another tradition, branding it as “exotic”, diluting and twisting it, and then calling it our own.”
(Blogpost, July 8, 2013 titled, “Like it or not, Western Yoga is a texbook example of cultural appropriation”).
Throughout my readings I have found many references to the fact, and I believe it to be true, that practicing Yoga (if you are not of the Hindu faith) disenfranchises our Hindu-Americans.
I do not agree with the religion of Hinduism, but it doesn’t give me or anyone else the permission to disenfranchise Hindus. It isn’t Christ-like (clearly I am directing this to followers of Jesus that are choosing to practice Yoga) I also support that because I am an Indian woman.
With Yoga, people are taking an exercise (when there are so many others available) with spiritual Hindu roots and ignoring the context for which it was created. I say we give it back.
We wouldn’t want other religions to take part in Christian baptism or communion while denying the religious connection or secularizing it and doing it their way, so then why is it okay to put our Christian label on their Hindu practice?
I want to wrap up with comments made by an acclaimed Hindu Yoga teacher, in the Hindu community, and a startling statistic that makes my heart cry out even more.
Yogi Baba Prem, Vedavisharada, CYI, C.ay, C.va., makes two statements that stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Christian Yoga could only indicate one of two possibilities:
Christianity is threatened by yoga and is attempting to take over this system that is expanding and successfully teaching spirituality to the masses
Christianity is subconciously attempting to return to the spiritual roots of civilzation – the Vedic civilization.
How would you answer him?
The enemy’s agenda is to distract unbelievers from the truth of Jesus Christ and to weaken the witness of the believer while keeping them entrapped. He uses the world, the flesh and the devil to distract us from an intimate relationship with Jesus. The enemy uses subtle ways to grow footholds in our lives and eventually divide us from The Truth in God’s word. For those who are familiar with Neil Anderson’s work with Freedom In Christ, it is stated in Step 1 of the appointment booklet that we are called to renounce and confess any and all affiliation with the occult and idol worship. He specifically points out Yoga as such.
Last but not least……
Biblical Discernment Ministries gives this startling fact that they quote from a secular newspaper:
“It is estimated that there are 10,000 Yoga teachers in the United States, who teach between 4-5 million students a week…”
My question to that is, if scripture says, “the harvest is plenty and the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37; Luke 10:2), then why aren’t more Christians becoming teachers of the Word, spreading the Gospel and engaging in discipleship instead of joining forces and drawing from another religion?
It is not a competition, it is the enemy’s game to water down the witness of the believer.
I believe you are helping him.
So here we sit, I believe, with the reality that yoga is a religious philosophy that is in direct opposition to Christianity.
I don’t want to live with footholds from the enemy and I don’t want you to either.
1Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1, even though it is Paul speaking, they are words that resonate from my heart as well.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
Thank you for taking this journey with me.